Cultivating Gratitude

Each week during the 2015-2016 Fellows year, we will feature reflections from the Fellows class of 2016. This week's reflection comes from Brittany Fan (Blacksburg, VA - UVA).

Sunrise in Deltaville, VA.  Photo by Brittany Fan. 

Sunrise in Deltaville, VA. Photo by Brittany Fan. 

Last Thursday, during our seminary course titled “Issues in Contemporary Culture,” Dr. Wade Bradshaw taught us about the importance of gratitude. He suggested that our knowledge and belief of the Gospel necessitates the cultivation of gratitude within our hearts. We have an endless supply of things to be grateful for, yet we often find ourselves anxious, frustrated, or prideful, rather than humbling ourselves in thankfulness to our Lord, and by extension, thankfulness for His creation and for the people around us who bear His image.

That same night, our Fellows class departed for Deltaville, VA for the Fellows testimony retreat. Having been told by Dennis, our Fellows director, that we were going to one of the most beautiful places on earth, I went in brimming with excitement not only to hear others’ stories, but also to be surrounded by the outflow of God’s creative work.

Despite our late arrival in Deltaville and our even later bedtime, I woke up with the sunrise on Friday morning. As a morning person, I knew that any effort to return to sleep was likely to be futile, so I embarked upon a wandering journey to explore this unfamiliar and supposedly beautiful place.

And beautiful it was. As an artist, much of my work stems from gratitude and awe of creation. The outdoors have always been a source of nourishment for my soul. Each experience in nature brings with it a new sense of joy, and on this particular morning, that joy came from something unexpected—something so insignificant in the greater scheme of the landscape and yet still so magnificent in its own scale.

That morning, my personal cultivation of gratitude was rooted in the contemplation of spider webs.

In looking at these beautifully spun, dew-lined threads, my mind quickly went to a passage in Luke 12. “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all His glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” Spiders create these intricate weavings daily. It is their given task within their small realm of reality; a task done purely for survival and function, yet that culminates in beauty. If the Lord can make this small, mundane task a manifestation of His glory, how much more potential does He provide for us as humans, the bearers of His image? We have the capacity to create and to cultivate as stewards of all creation, and the ability to participate in good, fruitful work that goes beyond what is necessary to fulfill our own personal, fundamental needs.

As strange as it may sound, the spider webs reminded me of God’s desire to use us even in our broken and flawed states, and the fact that he gives us power to manifest His glory in unexpected ways. It also humbles me to consider that, like the spiders, we are limited as fallen humans in the scope of that power. But in our weakness and finitude, we are not to give up, but rather do our work diligently in whatever place and task the Lord has called us to. What a gift and privilege that is.

This year, we as Fellows will explore this very notion of work and vocation so that we may better grasp what it means to follow God’s calling in every aspect of our lives. We will have the opportunity to do so within a community that is characterized by rich vulnerability, Christ-like love, and the collective desire to seek and glorify God. We are moreover blessed with the support of countless mentors, job hosts, host families, friends, and a beautiful Church body that seeks to love us and cultivate within us a deep love for the world. In a way, the Fellows community is a beautifully spun web, another manifestation of God’s goodness and a wonderful illustration of building God’s Kingdom.

What a multitude of things to be thankful for. And to think, it all began with staring at spider webs in a field. If we simply take a moment to look at the world around us, we can discover so many reminders of our Lord’s faithful presence. I am grateful for those spiders, for their toil, and for our ability to enjoy their work and other expressions of our Father’s creativity. I am grateful for grasses in the fields, for the sparrows in the sky, and for God’s ever-greater desire to clothe us and tend to us as well. I am grateful for the fifteen young men and women that I have the joy of walking alongside this year, and for the generations of community members who make it all possible. I am grateful for God’s grace to us and His desire to see His Kingdom flourish. From the smallest of creatures to the grandest of God’s visions, I see so many opportunities ahead to express gratitude in our daily walk with the Lord. Praise be to our good, good Father. 


Photos from Friday morning:

As a visual artist, Brittany received five arts grants while at UVA, shows work in local coffee shops, sells paintings and cards through a Charlottesville retailer, and has upcoming art exhibition with New City Arts this fall. Using painting, photography, and graphic design, she has supported organizations such as International Justice Mission and Soddo Hospital in Ethiopia.

Brittany also loves to teach and work with children, and has done therapy for infants affected by Down Syndrome, taught in elementary schools and summer programs, and directed a daycare volunteer program while in college. She served on the executive board of UVA’s College Council, interned at the Center for Christian Study, led as InterVarsity’s Creative Director, and has invested in areas such as education, disaster relief, and housing in lower income neighborhoods and developing countries. More than anything else, she desires to use her gifts and passions to help the world better flourish.